Magnus Carlsen inflicted a third successive defeat on Vladimir Kramnik to take a one point lead into the final two rounds of the 2015 Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir. His hottest pursuer is now the unbeaten Vishy Anand, who scored his second win with a highly creative game against Michael Adams. Wesley So fell to defeat against Fabiano Caruana, but could blow the tournament wide open if he beats Carlsen in Round 8.
For years Vladimir Kramnik’s supertournament approach was one of rock solid defences and a willingness to draw with Black and playing for a win at little risk with White. Depending on how things went he’d usually rack up a score from +1 to +3 and it was only a question of whether someone was on fire and could finish above him. Since he lost the world title, though, he’s adopted a much more aggressive approach, and become much more erratic. Unheard of things have happened. For instance:
That final -1 result might not seem that disastrous, except that those three losses came in the final four rounds. Starting well and finishing badly has become an issue for Kramnik, with Shamkir a case in point. Kramnik won his first game, but has now achieved a first for his long and illustrious career – three classical losses in a row in the same tournament.
He did have a half-decent opponent facing him in Round 7, though. Jan Gustafsson, who finally made it back from Thailand, takes a look at World Champion Magnus Carlsen’s win, which owed something to opening preparation:
Over to Jan:
You can also watch the press conference, which featured both players. Kramnik has learned his lesson since skipping the press interrogation after his first defeat to Mamedyarov, for which he later had to apologise. He’s not hugely looking forward to his final two games:
When you’re on -2 you’re not incredibly motivated to play great chess. It’s clear I’m in very bad form and cannot calculate for some reason, but still I’m a professional. I’ll just try to play normal games. I want to show decent chess, at least in the last two games.
Just as in Round 5, we had three wins for the players wielding the white pieces, and yet again one of those wins was for Vishy Anand.
You might expect Anand and Adams to take things easy on each
other as fellow veterans, but lately
it's been a slugfest. Anand beat Adams in the last round of
the London Chess Classic, Adams piled misery on Anand by winning in the last
round of the GRENKE Chess Classic and now it was Anand’s turn to take revenge.
Vishy had only won one game in Shamkir before this, but both against Giri and So he showed a willingness to mix things up and sacrifice material. Against Adams he played the English Opening for only the third time in his career, commenting:
I’m trying to experiment a little bit and I had some ideas. The problem I felt with 1.c4 today is that Mickey himself has just started playing it, so it’s in his repertoire, but anyway I thought I’d give it a shot.
Vishy accepted a pawn structure you won’t see recommended in many books for beginners, and then used the half-open f-file to inject some life into the position:
15.Rxf5!? It worked a charm, as Anand soon inflicted structural weaknesses that he could target, and when Adams slipped with 32…Rd8? (Anand: “maybe the critical blunder in the game”, Adams: “awful”), Anand was able to unleash a small trick he’d seen in advance, with the point being 35.Be6!
The attack on f6 allows White to reroute the bishop to c4, when the white pieces are suddenly perfectly placed. The computer recommends Black gives up a rook for the c4-bishop, but instead Anand’s advantage grew swiftly, and he finished things nicely with a marauding h-pawn:
50.h6! Kg6 (50…Kxh6 51.Qf6+! picks up the b2-rook) 51.h7! and Mickey resigned, since Qf6+ can’t be avoided whatever Black does (e.g. 51…Kxh7 52.Qf7+ Kh6 53.Qf6+).
You can watch the players' post-game press conference below:
Vishy is now the only player in striking distance of Carlsen, but he needs some help from Carlsen’s remaining opponents, one of whom, Wesley So, has just lost two of his last three games.
Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So’s tournaments have been mirror images of each other. Wesley had three Whites in the first four games and won all three of them, while Fabiano had three Blacks, which he drew. That would have been fine if he hadn’t also managed to lose the one game with White in utterly unnecessary fashion against the World Champion. So was on fire and Caruana was struggling… Three rounds later, though, Wesley has suffered two losses while Caruana now has two wins in a row and is back up to 2805 on the live rating list!
The game itself followed a line of the Nimzo-Indian which Caruana explained his opponent couldn’t be familiar with, since 10…Rf6?!, which took So 12 minutes, wasn’t considered a good move. The next couple of moves took him another half an hour, but when Caruana refused to push his h and g-pawns (“I’m not really brave enough for this!”) the position equalised, and both players agreed 23…Ng6? was the move that upset the balance:
24.g3 left the f-pawn hanging and the knight looking totally out of place. This was one occasion when a bishop and queen were clearly stronger than a knight and queen, with 32.Bc5! tightening the screw:
When the queens were exchanged White was a pawn up and had a huge mass of pawns on the kingside. With one slight hiccup Caruana got it moving and again, as in Vishy’s game, it was an h-pawn that brought home the bacon:
47.h5! gxh5 48.f5+! Kd6 49.gxh5 and Wesley resigned a couple of moves later.
Watch the post-game press conference:
That leaves just the two draws:
If you’d heard before the event that two Azerbaijani players drew in 33 moves you might well assume it was just some wood-shuffling, as we saw last year in both Mamedyarov-Radjabov encounters. Nothing could be further from the truth, though, since the players competed in the insane complications of the Moscow Variation of the Semi-Slav. It lived up to its reputation, with Mamedyarov apparently on the verge of landing a killer blow after 20…g4:
Here he went for the weird and wonderful 21.Bh8?! f6 22.Nh4! but was hit by 22…d2!! and it seems the best either player could do was force a perpetual (but of course don’t take any human’s word for it, just try playing around with Houdini on our broadcast!). Instead 21.Rxe4 Bxe4 22. Qxe4 gxf3 23.Qxf3 is apparently winning for White, but once again, it’s far from obvious.
Mamedyarov pointed out afterwards that Mamedov has shown that he has every right to be a participant in the tournament, and indeed he’s now above both Kramnik and Adams.
At the press conference after this game Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was scathing about his opening play:
To be honest, from my side it was more ridiculous than anything. I checked this line this morning but still I couldn’t remember any move orders!
It was soon Black who was playing for a win, and Maxime said he was only trying to survive after Anish seized space on the queenside with the Carlsenesque 18…a4!?:
After that, though, there was a long complicated struggle where neither player appears to have missed any clear goal-mouth opportunities. If you’re intrigued by the game the best thing you can do is watch the players struggling to work out what was going on in the post-game press conference:
You’ll find a few good quotes there. The organisers hit upon the brilliant idea of getting a kid to ask a very loaded question that a lot of chess fans might have put to Giri after his game against Carlsen the day before:
Innocent girl: Were you afraid before or during the game?
Giri: There are some questions to which there are right answers, and the right answer to this question is no!
Another question about whether Giri is focussed on his own games while walking around was answered with some advice the talkative young Garry Kasparov apparently received from his coach Alexander Nikitin:
Stop talking during your games. Sit back and don’t calculate, but let the position sink through your mind… But it doesn’t help me to become as good as Kasparov, unfortunately.
After Round 7 Magnus Carlsen has now stretched his lead to a full point with two rounds to go:
In Round 8, though, he has Black against Wesley So, which might be the last chance to stop the reigning champion cruising to a repeat win. Anand faces Mamedyarov in his last game with the white pieces before he has Black against Caruana in the last round. Oh, and before we forget, Rauf Mamedov will celebrate his 27th birthday on Friday with Black against Magnus Carlsen. If the interpreter can be believed, he said that was a nice present, but he wouldn’t mind $2 million instead!
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